Last year, Toby Marlow, our great editor-in-chief, reviewed the 2011 Explorer here on txGarage as I was welcoming to this world my 4th child. This enlarging of my family has put me into a special segment within the automotive world and has opened myself to a new dimension of reviewing vehicles. When you have a constant need for a vehicle that will carry 6 passengers – all the time – you begin to limit your options significantly. Moreover, finding something that seat 6, fits luggage, fits your budget, and fits your lifestyle can be near impossible. So this year, when the 3-row Ford Explorer’s keys were dropped off at the txGarage office, guess who jumped at the chance to put it to the test.
In 2011 when Toby reviewed it, the Explorer was totally reinvented. It came packed with a new body, new frame, new engine, and great new interior. Ford hasn’t relaxed though and for 2012 they are offering a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost powertrain option, updated SYNC system with 2-levels offered, rear inflatable seat belts – exclusive to the Explorer, and the inclusion of BLIS – a Blind Spot Information System. Also, we’ll soon be looking at the 2013 range of Explorer’s where we’ll finally be offered an Explorer Sport with the 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine under the hood, but more on that at a later date.
Our tester was a 2012 Explorer Limited equipped with the non-EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6. This engine is good for 290-hp and 286-lb-ft torque. It’s hooked up to a 6-speed SelectShift automatic transmission that allows you to throw it into a manual-mode of sorts. Overall, this combination propelled the Explorer quite well, even when packed full of people and things. Smash your foot to the floor wait for the transmission to think a bit, then a surge of noise and power takes over. It’s not a quick SUV, we’ll be waiting for the sport to take that mantle, but it’s more than adequate for everyday driving.
While I was happy punching the pedal to the floor, I was also just as pleased with the normal driving experience around town, or even in traffic. The Explorer has a very quiet interior, and like many Ford’s today, it’s quite nice. My only slight gripe with the interior quality starts about shoulder level and up. The sun visors, sunglasses holder, and map-lights were all very cheap compared to the rest of the car. Everything else was as nice, if not more so, than the Audi Q5 we reviewed last month.
Another pleasing thing about normal driving in the Explorer is the fuel economy from this big SUV. The EPA ratings for the 3.5-V6 are 17-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. If you opt for the 2.0-EcoBoost, you’ll see numbers closer to 20-mpg city and 28-mpg highway, best in class for 2012.
So how does the Explorer really handle as a family SUV? Quite well actually! We’ll take a normal Saturday in my household where 3 of my children are on 3 different baseball teams. My wife is busy getting our baby ready, fixing snacks for the teams, and getting the house in order – you know, doing motherly/wife stuff. I’m getting the Explorer all packed up and equipped with all the essentials. We’ll take 4 folding chairs – because bleachers are no place for a 1-year-old, throw in the umbrella’s – it’s Texas and we’ll be in the sun for more than 4 hours today. Next goes the 5-gallon water jug, and finally all the baseball equipment – bats, gloves, helmets, ball, etcetera. That’s not all though, I still have to fit in the stroller for carting our heavy baby boy from field to field, make sure we have extra clothes, toys, and other essentials for him; get the car-seat locked down, and finally get everyone in the car.
Getting the kids into the third row isn’t as easy as it is in some 3-row SUVs. The concept of it all isn’t hard, you just go up to the second row, pull the handle once to lay the seat down, then pull up harder to roll the seat forward. Easy enough, but it takes the strength of an adult to get it done. So two baseball players in the back, one player along with the baby in the middle row, and mom and dad locked in the front; time to head out.
Inevitably at this point, we’re running late and the only time kids seem to grasp the concept of time is when they know they are running late for their thing. Daddy likes to drive a little, we’ll say spirited, so making it on time just involves a little bit of sliding around and jumping some bumps in the road. The Explorer, with its off-road ready suspension and terrain management systems, handled this well. When we get to the fields, you have two parking options, and like many places in Texas, parking in a big field is one of the better options. So, more off-road time for this very capable Explorer.
As you see, I live a hectic, but rewarding life. All of our little baseball players did well in their games that day and I’d like to think it could be accredited to the Explorer; well probably not. I’ve come out of this week not just with a great opinion of the 2012 Ford Explorer, but as I looked around that parking lot and saw the plethora of SUV’s, I realize why us Texans, and Americans, really love them so much. When you have a big family and need to haul around stuff and you know you’re going to be on rough roads and probably off-road, it’s nice to have a vehicle that can do it all.
Being able to meet a family’s lifestyle and budget at the same time though is more tricky. Our tester’s MSRP was $45,735 and that’s just about the same as the Audi Q5 we tested. The base Explorer can be had starting at only $28,995, and considering that includes 3rd-row, that’s really good. You don’t need all-wheel-drive, traction management systems, heated and cooled seats, navigation, or leather – although all that is nice.
The true testament to the new Explorer really comes in sales. Just seeing the vast number of these already on the road says a lot about it. In 2011, Ford sold over 100,000 Explorers, a feat the explorer hasn’t accomplished since 2007 and almost doubling the numbers from 2010.
I say, big family or not, if you’re in the market for a SUV with the whole package, you can’t go wrong with the Explorer.